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2020 in the life of a teacher: A spring like no other

Our collaborator Marc-André Girard looks back on the events experienced in schools since March 2020. Part one.

ATTENTION! The English translation is automated - Errors (sometimes hilarious!) can creep in! ;)

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I still remember Friday March 13, 2020, about as much of the other date that marked my teaching career, September 11, 2001. Well, it was for different reasons, nevertheless, they both have traumatic for both students and adults. In 2001, it was a trauma imposed by the human, almost twenty years later, it is this time imposed on the human.

So on March 13, fever seized the school. The rumor machine is racing. The government is on their toes, and students and teachers alike are on the lookout for the smallest developments. Parents are worried, the father of such a student has just returned from China and it seems that he did not follow government instructions. We are asked to exclude the student. Another is feverish, but he still attends class. We have to exclude him, just like his friend who is coughing his lungs out. The witch hunt is on and the big question remains: will the school close, despite there being less than twenty cases of COVID-19? The suspense did not last long, with the Prime Minister announcing the closure of schools and the Minister of Education announcing vacations for teachers and their students. At the time, we thought this pandemic would only last two weeks or a few longer, as this temporary shutdown has been compared to that of the 1998 ice storm. 

So, fresh back from March break, I'm still on vacation, my students too. I am tormented. Let it be said, a teacher never takes a vacation. He takes rest. He takes a step back, because even if he is on "vacation", deep inside, he works to prepare his lessons, to find new ideas to better reach his students. He refines his approaches. A teaching brain never stops thinking. 

For the students, what was cool March 13 becomes a concern in April. No school, no learning, no friends, no framework, no opportunity to push your limits. As if human development was put on hold. As if our social fabric, of which teachers are a part, were suddenly tearing apart. Obviously, it was not woven tight enough since a virus of a size varying between 60 and 140 nanometers was able to pass through its mesh ... The new enemy is practically invisible and it has entered humans, infecting its activities traditional learning and those related to living together. However, what I have always worked for is threatened and I, like my peers, are we on "vacation"? School, is it not at the base of our society, an essential service? It seems not and parents can home school.

Finally, our “vacation” ended in early May (at least for elementary schools outside the Montreal Metropolitan Community). Home-schooling has known its three main limitations. First, the schooling process is done thanks to qualified personnel. Parents are the natural educators of their child but, despite the quality of their benevolent interventions, they are not teachers only because they have been to school benches. Second, these parents need help since they work at home. To provide quality education, one must necessarily take time to plan, teach and evaluate what has been taught. Finally, this schooling process is resolutely social. It is not only a question of educating, but also of learning to live together. 

At the end of the 2020 school year, we have a week to prepare the school and welcome our students. It is the beginning of imposed sanitary measures, the beginning of the development of tolerance to ambiguity. We are writing the pages of the history of Quebec education as events unfold. 

Accustomed to the predictability of our routine of a few decades, we had a certain power over the course of the daily activities of our students, without the fear come and disrupt our activities. Now the pace is dictated to us and the pace varies as we advance in time. This pace varies from one school to another, which disrupts our vision of our profession and our vision of the performance of our system where, usually, things must move at the same pace for the sake of fairness. In the midst of uncertain times, we demand certainty, a clear approach. We demand of our leaders to take the pilgrim's staff, to chart the course of predictability, while they are also in the unknown.

After almost two months of inactivity at school, suddenly what matters is education, not instruction. The human values of benevolence, socialization, listening, welcoming, mutual aid, collaboration take precedence over learning to read and count. We no longer talk about the good old opposition between the importance of acquiring knowledge or developing skills. What matters is to welcome the students and repair the missing link in education. Unfortunately, around 50% of the students have returned to class and of these, the most vulnerable have often stayed at home. We are worried. We can call home, invite them to visios, nothing helps. They are disconnected and their school year is over. They had a choice and they did not choose school for several reasons, starting with fear. Whatever the reasons for this choice, the school takes it for its cold. An essential service is not just a ministerial decree, it is also a recognition of its beneficiaries!

Basically, you might as well focus on those in class. And I must say that I had a great time in my career as I taught volunteers, in small classes, without the pressure to “pass the material”. Well, I'm exaggerating a bit since there was the stress of complying with sanitary measures, but we got out of it and the holidays came. You know those "vacations" where you wonder: 

  1. Will students be required to wear the mask in class? 
  2. Should I wear the mask in class? 
  3. Will the class be divided into bubbles? 
  4. How will I deal with the school delays of students who have missed almost six months of school? What do I do if they don't come back?
  5. How will I combine my teaching and any health measures? 
  6. What if I get sick too? 
  7. Etc.

My mind will have been spinning at high speed during the summer rest, according to the announcements and the news. The same question arose: "How am I going to do it?" ". And the same answer came back: "we'll see at the end of August".

Continuation and end of Marc-André Girard's testimony, to be continued!

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About the Author

Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard holds a bachelor's degree in humanities education (1999), a master's degree in history teaching (2003) and a master's degree in educational management (2013). He is currently a doctoral student in school administration. He specializes in change management in schools as well as in educational leadership. He is also interested in 21st century skills to be developed in education. He holds a managerial position in a public primary school and gives lectures on educational leadership, pedagogical approaches, change in the school environment as well as on the professionalization of teaching. He took part in educational expeditions to France, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Morocco. In September 2014, he published the book “Le change en milieu scolaire québécois” with Éditions Reynald Goulet and, in 2019, he published a trilogy on the school of the 21st century with the same publisher. He frequently collaborates with L'École branchée on educational issues. He is very involved in everything that surrounds the professional development of teachers and school administrators as well as the integration of ICT in education. In March 2016, he received a CHAPO award from AQUOPS for his overall involvement.